The Inbounds: Deron Williams and the meaning of Brooklyn cool
Let’s start here: Deron Williams did not decide to re-sign with the Brooklyn Nets because it was his best chance to win an NBA title. And that’s OK.
Williams made a lot of comments about how winning a title would dictate his decision. But the mere fact that he limited his options to Brooklyn and the Dallas Mavericks was proof enough that wasn’t the priority. The Indiana Pacers would have given Williams a better team to contend with, deep, versatile, and well-structured. The Mavericks have Dirk Nowitzki and one of the smartest ownership and management groups in the league. But the also have no young pieces and no star power to slide next to Williams and Nowitzki. And the Nets? Well, they took on an albatross with an anchor wrapped around its neck, tied to a concrete block in Joe Johnson’s contract. That was their big move. It limits their future ability to improve the team, and makes it a near certainty that their core will feature Gerald Wallace and a likely-overpaid Brook Lopez. There were better options to win the title.
But we tend to view these things from a binary perspective. As if the only things that went through Williams’ decision making process were what we felt were important or even what he openly states mattered.
Let’s digress, for a second.
Say you’re considering a move. You have a job offer, and that’s the biggest thing you’re looking at. But aren’t you going to factor everything in? Won’t you consider what kind of weather there is and if you like to live in it? Do you have friends there? Can your spouse stand it? Can you afford to live there?
Is it too close to your family?
Because that’s a huge concern. My brother refers to the concept of a DMZ between he and the rest of the family. Maybe for Deron Williams, playing in his hometown of Dallas wasn’t enough of a buffer zone.
Maybe it was just the money.
It’s fine to consider Williams’ decision and weight it against his stated priorities. It’s fine to question if he’ll win a title or if the Nets are even a top-three team in the league. But let’s not act like this decision was as simple as it is for anyone on the outside. It was what Williams felt was best for his life. He was contractually free to make that decision.
The ramifications of that decision are far-reaching and dramatic. Do you know what the biggest problem the Nets had in pursuing free agents over the past two years has been? It hasn’t been playing in New Jersey, though that was part of it. It wasn’t how God awful the team was, though that was part of it (and that’s the supporting cast now!). It was that the Nets weren’t cool. That shouldn’t matter, but it does.
Playing for the Lakers? The coolest. That’s why you’ve seen players take paycuts to don the purple and gold. Playing for the Knicks? Cool, despite their lack of on-court success. Playing for Boston? Cool, because of the history and classic iconic nature of the team. But the Nets? They were not cool. Not even a little bit. Not even when they were making Finals appearances in the early 2000’s. They were the TCBY of NBA teams.
But now, not just with the Mad Russian owner, or HOVA as minority owner, and a new arena in Brooklyn, but with all that and superstar talent, the Nets are cool. And that has value to players. They want the winning, and they want the money, and they want to feel cool while doing it. The Milwaukee Bucks may never win another title because of this dynamic, and the fact that the Spurs have won four despite not being cool in any way, shape, or form, is more impressive.
The Nets have a Big 3. Unless they get Dwight Howard, which is looking unlikely, they won’t be better than many of the other Big 3’s (but they are on par with New York, maybe better, which is important), and their future prospects get worse with Joe Johnson’s contract swallowing up all light in their cap universe. But they’re in the conversation. They’ll be able to attract those free agents looking to take a discount to compete for a title. They are a big ticket item.
For years, the Nets have been frustrated with being a joke. But now? They’re the awkward kids who went through a growth spurt and now everyone’s starting to notice them.
As for the Mavericks, uh...
But one thing should be noted. The Mavericks have always been masters at negotiating smart pieces, not landing huge ones. They rarely made league-shattering trades, but always made smart ones, constantly building forward. The trick for them is going to be getting Dirk’s successor. It was supposed to be Williams, but without him, they’ll have to go forward, adding pieces, building a core, but not having the spire. That’s the same situation Denver’s in, Utah’s in, Philadelphia’s in. But the Mavericks know that just because they lost out on Williams doesn’t mean there won’t be future opportunities. And if they see one, they’ll know enough to go all out for it, and maybe won’t be on uneven ground to start next time.
Cuban and Donnie Nelson have cap space, now and in the future. We’ve seen what can happen to good management when it makes a bad series of decisions in Detroit. But the Mavericks show no such weaknesses. The process has been sound, even if some of it is predicated upon ducking the damage from the luxury tax punitive measures in 2014, and even if the gamble didn’t work out.
There will be some smart moves made, some daring moves made, some surpising moves made. Dallas will hit on some endeavors, swing out on others. But in the end they should remain a competitive team. But the underlying puzzle now is the most difficult for any NBA team: how to acquire an elite player. Dirk can’t last forever. And the lifeboat just sailed away to New York.